Buncombe County was carved out of a magnificent mountain landscape etched by indigenous trails and scattered settlements. The bill creating the county was ratified on January 14, 1792.
In 1793, the county's first official courthouse, a jail and stocks were built at the west end of what is now Pack Square. The small log structure marked the county seat, later named Asheville, and was the first of six courthouses located on the square. Until the end of the Civil War, slave auctions were typically held on the courthouse steps.
Isolated by distance and difficult terrain, Asheville's population was sparse until the arrival of the Buncombe Turnpike in 1827. The road linked the village to eastern Tennessee and markets to the south, opening it to travelers, goods and immense livestock drives that passed through the square every autumn. Food, supplies and overnight accommodations were suddenly in great demand. By 1830, the population of Asheville had grown to 350.
The arrival of the first train in October 1880 marked a similar transformation. Travelers were no longer subject to arduous stagecoach journeys, and goods and materials became easier to transport. Asheville became known as a health resort because of its clean air. Fashionable new hotels were built, and the first streetcar began its rounds in 1889. The
village was brimming with settlers and tourists who converged on the square for provisions, news and social events.
Many entrepreneurs arrived, including George Willis Pack and his wife, Frances, who came to Asheville from Ohio in 1884 and found a bustling community eager for growth. Pack became a community leader and philanthropist. He contributed to schools, parks, a library, a hospital and the 1898 Vance Monument, a memorial to North Carolina Governor and U.S. Senator Zebulon Baird Vance.
Local landmarks included the sixth Buncombe County Courthouse built in 1876 near the east end of the square. The three-story brick building had an opera hall on the third floor and was a far cry from the rustic courthouses of the early years. In 1901, Pack gave Buncombe County several acres of land on College Street for a new courthouse. The deed required the county to remove the old courthouse and forever dedicate the square as a public park. County officials complied and honored their benefactor by naming the park Pack Square on April 17, 1903.
George Willis Pack's dream of a beautiful city park in the heart of Asheville remained vital 100 years later when a citizens' group led the creation of Pack Square Park. In 2009, historic Pack Square became the first section of the new park to open.
All Photographs courtesy of North Carolina
Reference Desk Pack Memorial Library